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When you check out comments at Youtube piano tutorials, a lot of people are asking the creator for sheet music. In many of those cases, the author says he learned the song by ear in a minimum of time.

So what exactly is “learning by ear” – apart from the obvious. Said in one line, it is the valuable ability to play a piece of music by listening to it. You don’t need sheet music, and it is a great way to understand song and chord structure.

Playing by ear consists of three main skills:

o Your tonal memory to recall music you hear
o Your ears and fingers to reproduce the music
o Using "melody contour" (the "shape" of the tune), "chord structure" (how to form the chords on the keyboard to match the tune), and "chord progressions" (the path chords take as they move through a song).

The first two are the easiest, the last one obviously the hardest.

So how do you learn and train this skill? Well, there are quite a few books and sites dedicated to this, but most of them need payment.
For the chord structure and progression I recommend getting a book about it. There are inexpensive handheld books available for this.
Learning to distinguish the melody is the hardest part in the beginning.
One of the best free resources I’ve found so far to help you out is

This site contains a video tutorial explaining the concept, and most of all software guiding you through and helping you to train on learning songs by ear.


Marg said...

WEll I hope English is all right here. This is a good blog about learning the piano. The information is great. I played the piano when I was a child and didn't learn half of this stuff. Good job.

AlpHa Buttonpusher said...

Good luck with that, I'm starting to learn to play a guitar..frustrating:)

xnapoleonx said...

@ Marg; thank a lot, much appreciated!

Indeed, it should be pure amusement but it aint always like that (:

I try the guitar too from time to time, but I give up as soon as my fingers hurt too much :')

briscolo said...

Same for me, I always give up soon with the guitar with sore fingers, despite I'm a rock climber and I'm supposed to have pretty strong hands.
About playing by ear, I've found this resource: it's published on a folk guitar site, but everything on that page is music theory so it applies to the piano as well:

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piano by ear provides the best services for music.

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piano by ear provides the services for music.

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